Circle of Hubert Von Herkomer; An Oil on Canvas Portrait of a Chelsea Pensioner c.1860


Origin: English
Period: Mid Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1855-75
Canvas Heights: 21.5 inches
Canvas Widths: 17.3 inches
The Whole: 30 X 26 inches

Painted within the circle of Hubert von Herkomer in oils on canvas, the head and shoulders portrait of a Chelsea Pensioner with long flowing beard shown in typical ‘undress’ navy blue uniform and every day hat, the whole laid on board, within the original gilt composition frame surviving from the third quarter of the nineteenth century.

The picture is in rather tired but decorative condition. The canvas has craquelure and is dirty, though could obviously be cleaned if so desired. The frame is original and stable but has several areas of loss. We like it this way. There is the original paper label verso reading ‘G.W. ??erman Carver and Gilder’.

Sir Hubert von Herkomer RA RWS RE (1849-1914) was a British painter of German descent, and also a pioneering film-director and composer. Though a very successful portraitist, especially of men, he is mainly remembered for his earlier works that took a realistic approach to the conditions of life of the poor. Hard Times, showing the family of a travelling day-labourer at the side of a road, is probably his best known work. Herkomer exhibited annually at the Royal Academy, London, from 1869 and painted a number of pictures that revealed his sympathy for the poor and disadvantaged, a characteristic fostered in part by his own humble origins. Despite being a prominent member of Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers, as well as being on familiar terms with the royal family, Herkomer was never totally accepted by the British establishment. Herkomer received many public honours, among them a knighthood in 1907 and died at Budleigh Salterton on 31 March 1914. This picture, in our qualified opinion, is a work of the period of the artist and closely related to his style.

A Chelsea pensioner is an in-pensioner at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, a retirement home and nursing home for former members of the British Army located in Chelsea, London. Historically, however, the phrase applied more widely, referring to both in-pensioners and out-pensioners. In-pensioners are entitled to come and go from the Royal Hospital as they please, and are permitted to wear civilian clothing wherever they travel. However, within the Hospital, and in the surrounding area, in-pensioners are encouraged to wear a blue uniform as we see depicted in this portrait. If they travel further from the Hospital, they should wear the distinctive scarlet coats instead of the blue uniform. It is illegal to impersonate an in-pensioner; at one time this was punishable by death.

This picture proves a dramatic and moody work, its condition only aiding its decorative appeal.